Making great, healthy food is all about sourcing the freshest ingredients. For Jacksonville foodies looking for the tastiest greens, it doesn’t get more local than GyoGreens, an aquaponics farm in Palm Valley. The farm, which opened in 2013, blends hydroponics and aquaculture to grow specialty produce and microgreens you won’t find in your grocery store.
Roughly 6,500 gallons of water flows through its greenhouse irrigation system. Nutrient-rich water from the fish tanks fertilizes the plants, and the plants in turn filter the water on its way back to the two tanks, which contain about 800 fish; mainly koi and tilapia.
Aquaponics is a highly sustainable type of farming, because the recirculation system reduces water use, fertilizer and runoff. GyoGreens uses beneficial insects and companion planting rather than pesticides and does not use GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) seeds.
GyoGreens (pronounced Ghee-O) supplies about 23 local restaurants with exotic lettuces and other specialty produce, including watercress, nasturtium, and collard greens. It also retails microgreens, nutrition-packed seedlings that grow 2-3 inches tall, like cilantro, amaranth and red vein sorrel.
To enhance freshness, the farm delivers the live greens to the restaurants in growing trays, says the farm’s owner, Helga Tan Fellows.
“They pick the greens in the morning and have them on the table at night,” says Tan Fellows, an engineer who loves gardening, healthy living and environmentally sustainable practices. “It’s just wonderful. It’s truly farm to table.”
Apples, nectarines and other edible landscaping grow outside the 3,000-square-foot aquaponics greenhouse.
Tan Fellows grew up in Costa Rica and has traveled the world. But it was a visit to semi-arid Australia where she learned to garden with little water. There she developed an interest in sustainable farming practices like aquaponics.
Eight years ago, when Tan Fellows and her family moved to Ponte Vedra Beach, she dreamed of building a sustainable farm that would offer a destination for student field trips and opportunities for science projects to cultivate the next generation of locavores.
The 1-acre parcel at 147 Canal Blvd. fit the bill. It’s surrounded by seven schools, including Accotink Academy By the Sea, a private school next door that’s very active at the farm.
“We teach them that you can grow your own food,” Tan Fellows says. “It’s important to learn where your food comes from. To see how this little seed becomes a plant. The students are just fascinated. They come back and bring their parents and give them a tour. We’re having a great time here.”
Farm to Fork:
To remain financially self-sustaining, GyoGreens relies on its relationships with numerous local restaurants that buy microgreens and specialty produce.
It’s not a hard sell. Microgreens are not only trendy and tasty, they’re jam-packed with nutrition. According to an August 2012 report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, they offer up to 40 times more nutrients than their more mature counterparts.
Knowing she needed help to reach the restaurant market, Helga Tan Fellows called Ed Baltzley, executive chef at Palm Valley Fish Camp just down the road. He talked with her about what he would buy, and coached her on setting competitive pricing and how to approach restaurants.
“He gave me a lot of information, a lot of feedback,” Tan Fellows says. “He is special to us.”
Baltzley was happy to help.
“You pick up on the quality and care when you start using it,” he says. “People love it. Microgreens definitely add flavor, a lot of flavor. Everything they grow is bright and beautiful. You can’t help but show them off.”